By the end of Labor Day, the University of Rhode Island is expected to have tested nearly 4,000 students for the coronavirus. That’s just under one-quarter of the university’s roughly 17,000 students. Here are some answers to questions Health Reporter Lynn Arditi asked Ellen Reynolds, URI’s director of health services:


What is URI’s plan for testing students for COVID-19? 

We are currently testing all on campus students for move-in. So that includes those students who have a housing contract with the university, those living in Greek housing on our campus, and those in our international house and our Texas instrument house. So we are testing hundreds per day expect to test a little bit shy of 4,000 by the end of Labor Day, and that is a surveillance test to try to identify - quickly - any positives before they get on campus or as they're moving onto campus so we can quickly isolate them and hopefully avoid any exposure to our community. At the same time, the health centers open and we're doing symptomatic testing every day.


How many URI students are expected to be spending at least some of their time in a classroom?

We'll have approximately 12,000 students, undergraduates and graduates,  who will have one or more in person classes at one of our four campuses, Kingston Providence Nursing Education Center, in our Bay Campus in Narragansett. But just remember, they may only have one class or two classes and there are other classes that may be virtual. So the frequency by which they'll come will vary. 


Why isn’t URI requiring its roughly 6,000 commuter students to be tested for COVID-19 prior to returning to campus or attending classes?

We certainly aligned our testing strategy with the Rhode Island Department of Health, and are certainly following the CDC guidelines, which really have no requirement to have testing upon entry. But we determined that we understood our greatest to be in those living in congregate living situations. And those are our students living in the residence hall complex, and students living down the line, albeit still, you know, living down the line may have some risk, they have a lower risk. So when we looked at our risk strategy, we decided to put our testing efforts here. I think if there was no limit to the number of tests in the no limit to human resources, it sounds wonderful to be able to test 16,000 people all the time. But unfortunately, we were not able to make that happen with the both human resources in the physical resources required to test that many.  


How about ongoing, surveillance screening tests for asymptomatic students?

We're hoping to run 500 to 600 tests a week for surveillance. Some of them will be random populations and some will be targeted. For example, the URI College of Nursing has some students and faculty working in clinical settings who may be at little higher risk.  We're going to try to surveil those students before they go out into the community, and then also at some regular intervals. We’ll also be doing some testing of random classes including faculty, staff and students in our community.


Besides testing, other precautions URI is taking to guard against the virus include:

  • Creating outdoor eating spaces and outdoor activities 
  • New hand sanitizing stations throughout URI campuses.
  • Students take a pledge that agreeing to follow the university’s health guidelines including maintaining a six-foot physical distance, frequent hand washing, masking wearing on campus 
  • Reconfiguring classrooms, lecture halls, dining locations, campus recreation facilities, athletic complexes, and other areas on our campuses.
  • Prior to coming to campus each day, students, faculty, staff and visitors are required to complete a daily health self-assessment form. 

For more information about URI’s plans visit its website here.

Lynn Arditi, health reporter for The Public’s Radio, can be reached at larditi@thepublicsradio.org